California faculty stage mass walkout demanding improved pay and working conditions

Faculty members from the largest public, four-year university system in the country have commenced a week-long strike as of Monday.

The California Faculty Association, which represents 29,000 professors, librarians, coaches, and other staff members employed by the California State University system, decided to go on strike after voting overwhelmingly in late October to authorize it.

This is the first systemwide walkout in the history of Cal State and has the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of students. After months of tense labor negotiations, the strike has thrown the university’s 23 campuses across California into a state of chaos.

The union has been in contract negotiations with the university administrators since May 2023. The faculty members and staff are demanding higher wages, better workloads, and an extension of paid parental leave to a full semester, among other requests.

However, there is a significant difference between the numbers proposed by the two parties. The talks broke down two weeks ago when Cal State unilaterally offered a 5 percent pay raise, which the faculty members argue is insufficient. They are pushing for a 12 percent raise instead.

Chris Cox, a vice president at the union and a lecturer at San José State, expressed frustration with the university management’s approach to the negotiations. He stated that while salary-related issues remain a major point of contention, the management has ignored other important matters concerning faculty and student well-being.

In recent years, there has been a surge in labor organizing within the higher education sector, partly driven by the impact of the pandemic. Last year, faculty and postgraduate student unions achieved significant victories across the country.

As of now, the university system has not responded to requests for comments. In a statement released on January 9, officials mentioned that the union’s salary demands were not financially feasible and that they had remained firm on their initial proposal throughout the bargaining process.

Leora Freedman, the vice chancellor for human resources, stated at the time, “With this action, we will ensure that well-deserved raises get to our faculty members as soon as possible. We have been in the bargaining process for eight months and the CFA has shown no movement, leaving us no other option.”

The exact number of staff participating in the strike is not immediately known, but the union spokesperson has promised to provide an update later in the week. Despite the strike, the campuses remain open.

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